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Azhar-Vatican ties witness major breakthrough after long hiatus

Al-Azhar and the Vatican have resumed talks that address the root causes of extremism, highlighting the means of combatting terrorism and religious extremism.
Muslim walk at Al Azhar mosque in the old city of Cairo December 2, 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood's party and its ultra-conservative Salafi rivals looked set to top the polls in Egypt's election, to the alarm of many at home and abroad. Moderate Islamists have won elections in Tunisia and Morocco in the past two months. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS RELIGION) - RTR2UROC

Egypt's Al-Azhar has recently resumed interfaith dialogue sessions in Cairo after being halted for nearly seven years, signaling a major shift in its ties with the Vatican that reached their lowest point in 2011. Under the theme of “The Role of Al-Azhar and the Vatican in Facing the Phenomena of Fanaticism, Extremism and Violence in the Name of Religion,” the seminar focused on further bolstering cooperation between the two prestigious entities in a bid to combat terrorism and religious extremism. It was attended by many scholars of Al-Azhar along with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, who led the Vatican's high-level delegation.

The Al-Azhar Commission for Interreligious Dialogue with the Vatican was formed in 1998 with the main aim of enhancing understanding between the two faiths as well as fostering dialogue between the highest seat of Sunni Islam learning and the Holy See. Such a commission usually holds biannual meetings to discuss the root causes of extremism, highlighting the means of combining efforts to counter terrorism and correct the wrong notions. The commission, nevertheless, suspended its work in 2011, adhering to Al-Azhar's decision to cut off ties with the Vatican during the papacy of then-Pope Benedict XVI. The recent two-day seminar is considered the first after the seven-year standoff, marking a significant thaw in ties.

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